Free Agent Fix: Hill vs. Boley

The Chicago Bears could use a fresh face at strong side linebacker, as neither Hunter Hillenmeyer nor Nick Roach performed well in 2008. Both Leroy Hill and Michael Boley are free agents, so could one of them be the answer? Bear Report again goes to the tale of the tape to make a decision. Do you agree?

Leroy Hill

The Skinny: Originally a third-round draft choice of the Seahawks out of Clemson in 2005, Hill has played in the considerable shadow cast by Pro Bowlers Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson in Seattle. He really performed well as a rookie with 73 tackles and 7.5 sacks as the Seahawks made it all the way to Super Bowl XL, although his numbers have never really improved since he's been in the league. This past season, he missed four games to injury but still finished with a respectable 84 tackles – third on the team behind the aforementioned Tatupu and Peterson.

LB Leroy Hill
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

The Pros: Hill has the look and feel of a Lovie Smith linebacker because he is very speedy from sideline to sideline and makes up for the deficiencies in his game with pure athleticism. He runs well with backs and tight ends in coverage, gets rid of big blockers quickly, and recognizes plays in a hurry. While he has experience playing both outside positions, he should be able to settle in on the strong side since Lance Briggs is one of the better weak-side defenders in the NFL already.

The Cons: Even though he has the wheels to cover backs and tight ends in space, tight ends in particular can provide mismatch problems for Hill since he's only 6-1. Sometimes his athletic ability will get the best of him, as he's been guilty of running himself out of plays from time to time. He's most certainly a solid player at this point of his career, but it's possible he's as good as he's ever going to be.

The Odds: There will inevitably be all kinds of shakeup in the Emerald City with Jim Mora taking over for the retired Mike Holmgren, so Hill can be had.

Michael Boley

The Skinny: Originally a fifth-round draft pick of the Falcons out of Southern Miss in 2005, Boley has proven to be incredibly durable because he's played in all 16 games in each of his four seasons as a pro. He enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2007 with a career-high 110 tackles plus three sacks and two interceptions, although he did come back to reality in '08 with just 73 tackles, zero sacks, and only one pick. Part of his dropoff in production can probably be attributed to the arrival or rookie Curtis Lofton, who solidified the Atlanta linebacking corps – along with veteran Keith Brooking – in Round 2 with 94 tackles.

LB Michael Boley
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Pros: Tall at 6-3 and lean at 223 pounds, Boley is your typical 21st century 4-3 linebacker in that he's a little undersized but overly athletic. He is very strong for his build, drops back into coverage quite smoothly, and can be especially effective as a pass rusher. He's experienced at several positions and still has some upside, which should make him attractive on the free agent market this offseason.

The Cons: While Boley does well when he has room to operate, he tends to get eliminated too easily when dealing with a mass of bodies in the trenches. He's not the kind of linebacker that's going to make something happen by himself because blockers will neutralize him, so he needs his defensive line to clear a path. His skill set is probably best suited on the weak side of the formation, but the Bears are already cool there with Briggs and need help over on the strong side.

The Odds: Boley will continue to be the third banana in Atlanta behind Brooking and Lofton if he stays there, although he has the potential to be a star somewhere else.

The Verdict

With both Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach disappointing to some degree in 2008, it's reasonable to assume that the Bears will be looking for a new starter at strong-side linebacker for '09.

Hill looks to be a good fit because he cut his teeth alongside Tatupu and Peterson in Seattle, so lining up next to Briggs and Brian Urlacher won't be anything new. Boley isn't necessarily a perfect solution for Chicago, but he's intriguing nonetheless since he has more room to grow into a legitimate playmaker one day.

The Bears need a dirty-work guy that can take on blocks and let Briggs and Urlacher to do their thing unobstructed, and that's a role better suited for Hill right now.

Judgment: Hill

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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